Port of Stockton officials expected 2015 to be a record year for shipping traffic, with a total of 247 ship arrivals through New Year’s Eve, compared to 230 ship arrivals in 2014, the previous all-time record.
Port Director Richard Aschieris said Monday that cargo volume will be down slightly, to 3.87 million metric tons in 2015, from 2014’s 4.11 million metric tons. But that reflects a change in the mix of cargo being moved through Stockton.
“As things change, as demands change for cargo, what we’re handling is always changing,” he said.
For example, coal exports, which have been the leading tonnage cargo this year and last, slipped to an expected 1.07 million metric tons in 2015 from 1.74 million metric tons in 2014.
And Aschieris expects, based on discussions with cargo carriers, that coal exports may disappear entirely in 2016 because of shifts in global demand and monetary exchange rates.
“It’s too expensive on the international markets,” he said. “The value of the dollar is so high, other places in the world can provide coal at half to a third of the cost (of U.S. coal).”
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Aschieris sees other types of cargo picking up in demand and overall maritime activity at the port holding up.
“I am very pleased that we have diversified away from coal and seen other products are moving up,” he said.
“There are actually more jobs being produced out there because we are handling products that require more manpower.”
One example of that is the increase in steel products, which came in at No. 4 for cargo volume in 2015 at nearly 298,000 metric tons. In 2014, it was not among the port’s top-five cargoes.
Handling the unloading and loading of steel products and their transport generate more jobs than bulk materials, such as coal.
Aschieris said Union Pacific Railroad Co.’s rail welding plant, which began operations earlier this year, may have contributed to that growth.
Unusually long, 480-foot lengths of steel rail are imported from Japan aboard the Pacific Spike, a ship custom built for the job, and welded in Stockton into 1,440-foot long ribbon rail segments for delivery to Union Pacific rail replacement and expansion projects throughout the western United States.
Also contributing to the upturn in shipping activity in 2015 were a dozen ships carrying bulk cement, a cargo that had been absent from Stockton’s docks for the previous five years, Aschieris said.
While bulk cement imports at the Port of Stockton hit a record 2.1 million metric tons in 2006, demand tumbled with the collapse of the housing bubble.
The port director expects to see cement imports continue in 2016 at about the same pace as 2015.
— Contact reporter Reed Fujii at (209) 546-8253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ReedBiznews.